The spice of life

Variety, when looking for a place to eat out, is at an all-time premium. Gareth Samuel investigates how food franchises, in particular, have helped make eating out with greater choice more affordable, more enjoyable and universally accessible.

As the commodity retail industry continues to struggle in the battle against Internet shopping, the high street is filling up with a range of catering establishments, including an array of food and beverage franchises.

McDonald’s, KFC and Subway franchises have establishments in over 100 towns and cities across the country, offering Britons a good-value hot meal served in minutes. Prior to the emergence of such chains, eating in restaurants on a weekly basis was typical only for the exclusively wealthy – now it is part of family life.

The high street now offers a spectrum of options, many of them coming from food and beverage franchises. Peter Kirton, Managing Director of Esquires Coffee House, believes franchises can enrich the high street. Peter says: “We encourage our franchise owners to become part of the community and to do a lot of social activities in their area. Some of our franchise owners have embraced this more than others, but generally they all understand the Esquires philosophy is to become a social hub for the community.

“We give our franchise owners quite a lot of control over their premises. We encourage them to hold events and put on things for the local community, but it really is up to them how much they engage with the people in their area.”

This commitment to communities has helped Esquires grow gradually but determinedly to become one of the most well respected coffee brands in the UK. Peter adds: “We are continually expanding, but we make sure we can find a suitable location and a perfect franchise owner. For us, the franchise owner comes first, then the location. We would never just open loads of stores – it is always a mutual decision between the franchise owner and ourselves, before we set anything up.”

High streets have been given new leases of life by catering franchises offering new and exotic meal options. Managing Director of Fish ‘n’ Chick’n fish and chips franchise, James Lipscombe, recognises the need to appeal to a wide range of customers, both in terms of product and design. He says: “In terms of the menu we offer, we recognise it is important to cater to the varying tastes of consumers. We do this by offering new things like rotisserie chicken and southern fried chicken.”

“We are the nation’s biggest fish and chip brand and we think that the quality of fit-outs is vital. We want to offer our customers a unique experience in a modern contemporary dining environment.” In July this year, Cost Sector Catering announced that catering businesses which were doing well in the first half of 2013 tended to be quick service restaurants. According to figures from the NDP group, the quick service sector is expected to grow by at least two per cent per year, to reflect a cultural shift, as society become busier than ever.

These statistics contribute to the popularity of food and beverage franchises, like Figaro’s Pizza, Southern Fried Chicken and McDonald’s – all of which serve food over the counter in minutes. The main advantage for a consumer, when visiting a quick service restaurant, is the time it saves. An office worker or busy tradesperson can eat from a quick service restaurant in a typical lunch break. Currently, the capital holds most appeal to franchise owners. However, the whole of the UK is beginning to see a greater range of catering options available in high streets, as new and exciting food and beverage franchises set up shop with a proven business model in the hope of turning heads. Away from the high street, delivery services are becoming ever more efficient too, with Pizza Hut Delivery offering a hot pizza delivered to door within 30 minutes of ordering. Other brands, including Camile, which has just begun franchising in Ireland, offer a new take on the delivery service, with restaurant-quality food delivered to your door.

For a potential investor, the choice can be mind-blowing, so it is vital to identify which business will be successful, not only in the short term, but also in years to come. Food and drink franchises are expanding exponentially as consumers crave variety. For savvy investors, getting into the catering market is sure to yield rich reward.